Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Words For Worried Writers: Answering the Question "Am I Wasting My Time?"

From the in-box:

"I may need a bit of encouragement. I've queried fifteen agents -- two asked for partials, then rejected after a lengthy time. Others outright rejected the manuscript. Now I am wondering if I am wasting my time. Should I move on to something new? Did I kill my book before it even had a chance? I believed in my beta readers who said it was ready, and I think that's what bothers me most."

These questions, in some form, are the most commonly asked ones in the Writer's Realm. 

It may have something to do with an industry that requires me to spend days researching an agent's likes, dislikes, sales record, social media presence, online interviews, and current client roster, and to spend at least an hour filling out their personalized form (Who is my favorite Muppet, and why? What song am I most likely to sing out loud in the shower? Hmmmm), only to receive a "not for me" reply in less time than it takes for me to refill my coffee cup.

I asked permission to share this writer's email and my response to this and every other unsure / underappreciated / self-doubting / anxiety-ridden / apprehensive creative soul out there standing at the precipice of a Career in the Arts and wondering "Can I do this thing?"

So -- here is my response:


Dear Awesome Writer,

Here’s the short version: You want a career in writing? Buckle up for a LONG HAUL. 

Writers are called. We start out writing a story or a book, looking at it like we’re going to run a 5K on a weekend. Then people start warning us of “marathons.” Those people are wrong. 

A writing career is not a marathon, which is over in a few hours. It's more akin to circumnavigating the globe. It is a lengthy, exhausting, imperfect, messy, unfair process. You are at the very beginning — at the starting gate. If you give up easily or are readily discouraged by what others say, quit now. Seriously. I cannot overestimate how hard the process is.

So why do it? 

If you’re like me, and the other writers I know, it’s because you must. You have a story to tell. You love telling stories. 

And you’re not going to let the querying odds (fewer than 1 in 1000 queries get an offer of representation), the money (the vast majority of published writers must work at another job to make ends meet), the rejections (Lin-Manuel effing Miranda was rejected for arts grants only 15 short years ago), the naysayers (“The Great Gatsby,” which is considered a classic and is one of my favorite books — the book that made me want to become a writer — tanked when it was released. It never became “successful” until after its author’s death, when the publisher cleaned out their backstock to send cheap reading material to soldiers in WWII), or your own inner voice derail your dreams.
As long as you love what you are doing, you are not “wasting your time.” Think of all those poor saps out there who have no North Star passion.

Your betas encouraged you. They weren’t wrong to do so, but they probably know jack about publishing. Don’t blame them. We all need fans. Put them in the “fan” category and turn to them when you need cheerleaders. 

The people who work in publishing will often not be as encouraging as your betas were. That’s why my goal for all my clients is to work on a project and polish it until it is as good as we can possibly make it, every word has fought for the privilege of remaining in the manuscript, and you love it

Realize that once the project finds a publisher, you will rewrite it again with the editor — your Publication Sherpa.

It is entirely possible that this book may not be the one that lets you break into publishing. (“Carrie,” Stephen King’s first published book, was his seventh manuscript, I believe. He was so discouraged that he threw the draft in the trash, but his wife dug it out and encouraged him to keep going. Even so, over 30 publishers rejected it.) But the tools you learn from working on it will apply to your next book. And your next. And your next. 
Your book is hardly dead. There are hundreds more agents to approach when its time. Fifteen agents is *nothing*. And they were right to reject it. It was nowhere near ready to query. 

My job, and the job of any other writer you ask for help at this stage, is to help you get your book query-ready. We won't lie to you. We'll help you identify your weaknesses and point you toward the tools to fix them. When it's ready to query, we'll join your beta-fans and cheer you on every step of the way!
Every so often, the blind pig finds the truffle...

Chin up! Soldier on!

Onward and upward!

[Of course, I had no sooner replied to this writer than I noticed that Don Jr. announced a publishing deal. Because of course. ::sigh:: In this TED Talk, I will discuss...]

tl;dr ~ Yes. You can do this thing. You will fail along the way. Get used to it -- especially if you are not a member of the Automagically Privileged Elites (APEs). If you can actually walk away and leave your creative soul unexplored, do it now. If you can't, then suck it up and get to work!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

5 Ways Online Magazines Can Energize Your Writing Mojo

It's no secret that the Writing Life can contain a few pitfalls. Slogging through the query trenches is a lonely, soul-crushing experience, often flavored with loneliness, angst, and self-doubt.

One antidote to such misery -- far better than spiraling into either a Fitzgerald or a Hemingway of despair -- might be online magazines. Literary ones, genre ones, big ones, startups: each has a special place in the heart of my career. The top 5 reasons for my love affair:

This is no time for a trail ride...
1. I Feel the Need; The Need For Speed
Every writer knows this business of ours moves at a g-l-a-c-i-a-l pace.


Writing a good book takes months, at least. Often, it takes years. Finding representation can take longer than your child lasts in elementary school. Getting a publisher to take a chance on you is an exercise in not eating one's own liver.

But magazines, especially digital ones, have a much shorter publication schedule. The submission-to-publication time frame is measured in mere weeks or months, instead of geologic eras. While I'm waiting for a book editor who has had a manuscript since May to make a decision, a short work sent out this month can be published before the snow melts. That's about as close to instant gratification as the writing world gets.

2. Exciting Editorial Interaction
Every publisher, every publication, has a particular vision, tone, or style that sets it apart from the rest. This includes e-zines, from the bigwigs to the tiniest literary startup. Working with editors to polish shorter pieces for their publications builds critical skills and awareness that will be invaluable when working with an editor on longer projects.

There is no such thing as "too many bylines."
3. Bylines, Beautiful Bylines
Call me shallow, but I like seeing my name in print. "By Ami Hendrickson" never ceases to fill me with an Enterprise-sized payload of warm fuzzies.

Fun fact: people who are not in the publishing biz (your mom, your kids, your dentist) often do not make a distinction between having a book published and having a thing published. They do, however, understand being unpublished.

While waiting for the book deal, the script option, or the staging of your play, placing a few poems, or articles, or short stories with e-zines can not only help mitigate Byline Fever, but it can also help shut up those people who wonder aloud, within earshot, when you're going to be a "real writer."

4. Reckoning with Rejection
We fall down. We get up again...
I know some writers who are paralyzed with fear at the thought of rejection. Somehow, they have equated rejection with failure. (This, of course, is ridiculous. Even Lin-Manuel Effing Miranda got rejected when he applied for the Jonathan Larson grant in 2004.)

Getting published is like playing a massive game of Concentration. (Remember, from when you were a kid? There's a deck of a jillion picture cards. Each card has a match. You lay all the cards face down and then turn two over, hoping for a match. You get a match, you keep the cards and go again. No match, your turn is over.) You send out a piece hoping it finds an editorial match. If it does, it gets published. Yay! Confetti-flinging ensues. If it doesn't, you send it somewhere else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I used to worry about rejection. Now, I realize it's just part of the game. FWIW, I even sent queries out when my husband was dying. I figured no rejection could possibly compare with losing my WunderGuy. You can't win if you don't play. You can't get published if you don't go out on sub. If rejection worries you, let the quick turnaround of e-zines help you get used to it. The sooner, the better.

5. Bend! And Stretch! And Reach for the Stars!
The shorter length of pieces for online magazines allows me to stretch myself, trying something new with presentation, or with language, or with ideas, without committing months of my life to it.

If I run across an interesting tangent in my research (helloooooo, YouTube rabbit hole about Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians...), exploring it in poetry, or flash fiction, or flash non-fiction allows me to sink my teeth into it far enough to know if I need to devote a larger chunk of my writing time to it -- or if I can let this Bright, Shiny Object lie and return to my work-in-progress.

You never know what new interests you might discover if you give yourself permission to try them. I once wrote a contest winning six-word short story ("No taxidermist loved his daughter more.") that not only brought with it a lovely, unexpected winner's check, but it also permanently kick-started a love of micro-fiction.

Added bonuses:
As I review an e-zine to see if what I've written might be a good fit, I invariably find new writers that I like, wrestle with new ways to look at the world, and discover some new technique to put into play. My research almost always results in immediately improving my writing -- whether I submit something to them and get it published or not.

Bragging Rights:
If you've had something published online recently that you're proud of, tell me about it. It's ok to brag. Let the world know what you did this nifty thing.

I'll go first: I'm thrilled that my poem "Drive By 'I Love You'" was published this past weekend in The Cabinet of Heed.

Ok... Your turn!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"I Traded My iPad for a Smith-Corona Typewriter": Q & A with Author Harry Marks

Author and Typewriter Aficionado, Harry Marks.
I am thrilled to present an interview with my Twitter-friend, author Harry Marks (@HCMarks)

When I discovered Harry uses a typewriter for his writing, I was simultaneously skeptical and intrigued. Here, Harry kindly answers my questions about where the typewriter fits into his writing process. Thanks, Harry!

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing. What do you write? What are your favorite genres? Favorite formats?

A:  My name is Harry Marks and I’m the host of the literary podcast, COVERED ( I’ve been published in HelloHorror, The Coil, and have written for Baron Fig. Links to all my writing can be found at

My short fiction tends to be genre-focused. I really love experimenting with short horror stories and flash fiction. My novels (I’ve completed five and I’m finishing up a sixth) tend to skew more Literary.

Q: In 2019, what is the Brass Publishing Ring achievement you would love to unlock?

A: I would love for 2019 to be the year I finally sign with a literary agent. I think I might be nearing completion on the book that will get me where I want to go. Fingers crossed!

Q: How long have you used a typewriter for your writing? Do you have a preferred make or model? What was your first foray into the Wonderful World of Typewriters?

A: I’ve been using a typewriter since 2015. I’d always wanted one for the reason most writers want a typewriter—the romantic fantasy of clicking and clacking my way to a best-seller like Stephen King. 

Harry's Workstation.
My mother used to let me mess around on an electric typewriter she had before we got a computer. This was in the early ‘90s when the hottest computer game around was Solitaire. It’s only recently that I’ve delved back into the analog world, having grown weary of the constant blinking and beeping and buzzing of my digital lifestyle. [I can SO relate... AH] 

I actually sold my first generation iPad so I could buy my first typewriter: a teal 1950s Smith-Corona. I wrote the first short story I ever had published on that machine. 

Q: What about the typewriter appeals to you?

A: The typewriter is a connection to the past, and I know how hipstery that sounds, but that’s what’s so appealing. I grew up in a house where vinyl was the primary source of music and paper books lined shelves in almost every room in the house. 

I love the dichotomy between the simple act of typing and the incredibly complex network of levers and springs within. And most importantly, my typewriter is over 60 years old and still works as well today as the day it rolled off the assembly line. It’s a tank. I can’t say that about the iPad I sold.

Q: Can you walk me through a typical idea-to-draft-to-polished-piece project? How does the typewriter fit into the process?

A: I tend to go to the typewriter during the drafting phase. Everything must end up in my computer eventually, but first drafts are either handwritten or typed on my Smith-Corona.

Q: What drawbacks are inherent in using a typewriter? How do you combat them?

A: The typewriter has plenty of drawbacks that make the idea of using one to write a novel seem absurd. 

I don’t have correcting tape, so I tend to go over typos with Xs until a word is blacked out. A lot of my first drafts look like redacted military files. 

They’re also heavy, loud, and if you use them enough, you’ll find yourself replacing the ribbon pretty often. 

Also, if it breaks and you don’t know how to fix it, you have to find someone who does. I work in New York City, so I tend to take my machines to a tiny shop in Midtown owned by a man who’s been fixing up typewriters for over 50 years.

Q: What advice would you give to a writer who is intrigued by the idea of using a typewriter and who wants to give it a try?

A: For anyone interested in writing on a typewriter, my biggest piece of advice is: try it in person. Don’t just buy a typewriter on eBay and hope for the best. Most of them are garbage anyway. If you can, go to a brick-and-mortar store where typewriters are sold (typewriter resellers, antique shops) and try them out. Choosing the right typewriter is like choosing the right guitar: you’ll know it when you feel it.

Any other typewriter-using authors out there? I'd love to hear your process. Me? I draft either in illegible handwriting OR on my AlphaSmart. Chime in below on what works best for you!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Four Easy Ways A New Writer Can Rock Twitter (updated for 2019)

A few years ago, I wrote a post full of suggestions for How a New Writer Can Rock Twitter. Since then, Twitter has evolved. The "Favorites" star  turned into a "Like" heart, storytelling with GIFs has burgeoned into an art form, bots and trolls are far more prevalent, and the 140-character limit has doubled. While I stand by the advice in the post from 2015, this shiny new year provides a good opportunity to add an upgrade.

1. Crash the #WritingCommunity Party

I got on Twitter -- dragged against my will, I might mention -- in 2010. Then, the #amwriting hashtag, brainchild of the lovely and talented Johanna Harness, was the Place to Be for Writing Twitter. In many respects, it still is, but it has been hijacked in recent years by spammers who shill their work, but don't interact with anyone.

#WritingCommunity is different. For now. In some ways, it reminds me of Old Twitter, where people engage, retweet, support, and interact. IMHO, if you're new to writing, or new to Twitter and looking for community, this hashtag is a good place to start.

Other incredibly useful hashtags:

#MSWL -- in which agents, editors, and other publishing pros list the things they are actively looking for.

#amediting is great for support while revising.

*  And #TenQueries provides essential insight into how Actual Agents and Editors approach their slush piles.

--> #PubTip used to be a worthwhile hashtag, but has lately been overrun with noise.

2. Beware What You Share

Beware of tweeting anything too personal, pessimistic, or damning about your writing and your process.

I notice this most often on the #amquerying tag. As a writer, expect publishing pros to look up your social media profiles. You DO NOT want them to see something like "Just got a fresh slate of rejections. Over 100 so far! Oh well! #Amquerying again..."

If you have over 100 rejections on a project: congratulations. We all do. Join the club. But wait to tell that story until after you've found the one person who sees your genius. After you have enjoyed significant success, by all means, tell the tale. Until then, just keep writing...

Piggybacking on this: beware of using any form of "aspiring writer" in your bio. And, in general, refrain from the newbie move of putting "author," "writer," or similar words in your Twitter name.

If your name is Hinkerpaler McSnickety, then make your Twitter handle @HinkerpalerMcSnickety. Or, say, @HinkerSnickety. But steer clear of things like @AuthorHinkerpaler or @McSnicketyWrites.

3. Be Supportive

Twitter is full of supportive publishing professionals. Become one of them.

I have helped polish queries, made introductions, answered formatting and technical questions, and beta-read manuscripts. Thanks to Twitter, I have a few more clients and a lot more friends. Yet in the past nine years, I can count the number of times I've done a hard-sell promo for my work on one hand.

If someone asks a question you know the answer to, answer it. Then move along. Do not treat every interaction as an opportunity to smack someone over the head with your book.

Don't. Be. THAT. Writer. There are far too many of them on Twitter already.

Likewise: when someone joyously announces that they have representation, or have a publishing deal, or have a book release -- congratulate them. Be sincere. Post happy GIFs and fling virtual confetti. Publishing is tough. Its wheels grind slowly, and they often grind writers into chaff. Celebrate the victories of others. One day, we'll celebrate yours as well. In the meantime, jealousy looks good on no one.

4. Use Lists to Decide Who To Follow

Twitter inundates new users with suggestions of people to follow. Often, these people are uber-famous celebrities with millions of followers. As if any of them are going to follow back and interact with us.

But... who to follow? It's a bot-filled, troll-infested jungle out there.

One way through the jungle -- at least while you're getting your bearings in the mine-filled Twitter landscape -- is to follow someone else's curated list. For instance, I have a list of over 490 literary agents. I have lists of writers, a list of editors, and one of interesting people whose tweets are always engaging.
To find a person's lists, go to their Profile page and click on "Lists"
Many agents and publishers have their own lists, too. Unless a list is locked and private, you can follow it. Following a list allows you to see the tweets of list members, even if you don't actively follow them. It won't take long before you know who you want to add to your feed.

Remember: you don't owe anyone a followback. Just because someone follows you doesn't mean you must follow them. (Full disclosure: for years, this was an unpopular take. But it's a hill I will die upon. I look at the feed of every single new person who follows me before deciding whether or not to followback. If they talk only about themselves, if they never interact with others, if they are rude, or if they only retweet saccharine feel-good quotes, I don't have room for them in my timeline. Those are *my* rules. It's up to you to make your own.)

Here's hoping you find this post helpful. What did I miss? What's your best advice to writers new to Twitter?

[You're a blog follower, right? Hope so - 'cause 2019 is going to be fab-u-lous!]